Secondary infertility: I always wanted a big family

I never thought I’d have trouble conceiving again. It turned it took four years of treatment and procedures.
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Photo: Tara Turnbull

“Oh my gosh, are those all yours?” That’s what everyone says when they first see me with my pack of boys. I’m now used to the looks of amazement and sympathy and horror they give me. (I usually smile and say that having two sets of twins is a very efficient way to have four kids.) They can’t tell, of course, which ones were conceived naturally and which ones were conceived in a lab. We look like a normal family. We are just a normal, albeit large, family. How I got to have such a large family was incredibly weird. If only I had known how quickly it would slide from bizarre to normal.

I had always wanted a big family. I envisioned the noise, the chaos, the fun (perhaps not, however, at this decibel level). I wanted siblings of different ages—the more kids I had, I thought, the more fun it would be. Considering how quickly and easily I got pregnant with my first set of twins, I never thought I’d have trouble conceiving again. I thought I could pick my day and month, whatever was convenient with my life, and plan to have another child. But it didn’t happen that way.

After a year of trying unsuccessfully to conceive another child on our own, my husband and I sought out medical help for my secondary infertility. We tried everything. I took Clomid and then we tried in vitro fertilization (IVF). Words can’t describe how miserable the process was: It was months and months of injections, hormones, schedules, surgeries and endless tests. The absolute worst part of it was the waiting. After weeks of taking drugs, you undergo surgery to harvest the eggs, which are then put in a petri dish, fertilized and put back inside you. And then you wait—for days and days. You have blood drawn to test whether the embryos implanted successfully or not, but it takes hours to get the results. It is sheer hell, and I went through that six times. By the end of it, my body was bruised and swollen and I was completely drained, physically and emotionally.

I wasn’t, however, ready to give up on my dream of a big family, whatever way I could have it. My doctor assured me that if I was willing to be open-minded, I’d be able to build my family somehow, someway. I looked into adoption, but given that I had already undergone three years of fertility treatments, I was scared off by the long timeline and high degree of uncertainty. And then, strangely, in the span of a week, I heard from two friends who were both using gestational carriers. That’s when a light bulb went off in my head. I realized that this approach could work: I would have some control over the situation, I knew what I was getting into biologically, and I knew the gestational carrier could carry a baby to full term.


But while it made logical sense, it still felt strange to contemplate having another woman carry my baby—it felt as though I was walking into a TV-movie-of-the-week. The process for using a gestational carrier is really overwhelming: There’s legal stuff, medical stuff and personal stuff. You’re dealing with lawyers on either side of the continent and trying to find doctors from thousands of miles away. For a type A personality, it was incredibly hard to pass the most important job in your life on to a stranger.

I quickly learned to focus on one step at a time. I contacted a reproductive lawyer and she sent me descriptions of women who were interested in being gestational carriers. It’s an odd process, flipping through what are essentially resumés of women who would be willing to help us build our family. But then, of course, the more you’re in it, the more you get used to the idea and the shock value wears off a little—you become desensitized to how bizarre it is.

For me, it all clicked into place when I first talked to my gestational carrier. While we lived radically different lives—I was in New York at the time and she lived in rural Oklahoma—our core beliefs were very much in line. She loved being pregnant, and she was really quite protective of my babies. We’d talk as often as we could, about her kids, my boys, the weather, reality TV—everything. I adored her.

During the pregnancy, it was almost like I got to play the role of the father. I was there for the sonograms, finding out if it was going to be another set of twin boys (!) and hearing their heartbeats for the first time. I was just as excited for every milestone as I was the first time. It was different but just as good. And being at the hospital and meeting the babies was as emotional and as exciting as giving birth. I can’t say that one was better than the other. This way, I got to experience what my husband went through with my older boys: waiting, watching, listening for their first cries and holding them for the first time.

It’s amazing how quickly life moves on. My little guys are now almost 8, and the unconventional way they came into this world is just one tiny little moment in their lives. And while it took months and months of heartache and worry, travel and lawyers, it was all worth it. At the end of the day, it didn’t matter how they got here, as long as they got here.

as told to Kathryn Hayward

Read more:
What not to say to someone struggling with infertility
Your options when IVF doesn’t work
Wendy’s story: Finding an alternative path to parenthood

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